Boswellia is a natural inflammation-fighting gum resin extract derived from the Boswellia serrata tree, common to India. It is also known as “Indian Frankincense.” For centuries, the tree’s fragrant, gummy sap, called “oleoresin”, has been tapped for its medicinal properties. It has proven especially valuable for arthritis and back pain sufferers.
The harvested oleoresin contains a mixture of naturally occurring organic acids. These acids inhibit pain and inflammation causing enzymes. They also limit the synthesis of fatty immune system molecules called leukotrienes which contribute to inflammation.
Effective arthritis pain relief
One six-month study compared the efficacy, safety and tolerability of Boswellia extract with the prescription drug valdecoxib (no longer available in the U.S. market due to health risks). The patients enrolled in the study suffered from osteoarthritis of the knee and received either 10mg of valdecoxib taken once daily or 333mg of Boswellia extract (containing 40% boswellic acids) taken three times daily.
The study found patients who took valdecoxib presented statistically significant improvement after one month, but the relief quickly subsided when the drug was stopped. The Boswellia test subjects did not show statistically significant improvement until the second month. However, the on-going relief of Boswellia extract clearly bested the drug by its longer lasting effects. When the valdecoxib was stopped, the pain returned within a day or two. But those who had been taking boswellia reported continued effects a full month after the test had ended.
The researchers reported in their conclusion that “in terms of safety, efficacy and duration of action, the present study shows that [Boswellia serrata extract] was superior to valdecoxib, except for the slower onset of action.”
Hundreds of other studies on boswellia extract have proven it both safe and effective at treating not only osteoarthritis, but also rheumatoid arthritis.
Safer than NSAIDs
Inflammation is a killer, but so are many of the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) used to treat it. Boswellia extract fights inflammation as well as most NSAIDs, but without the stomach irritation or ulceration. In fact, at least one study found boswellia more effective at treating ulcerative colitis than the commonly prescribed sulfasalazine. Boswellia also doesn’t carry the severe risk of heart attack and stroke found with some of the newer NSAIDs.
Even though it has been safely used for centuries, a comprehensive safety study was conducted on boswellia just a few years ago. The study found no significant adverse effects other than minor eye irritation. Other studies noted only rare but minor side effects, such as nausea, skin rash or diarrhea.
Of course it’s always a good idea to speak with your health care provider or pharmacist before taking herbs or dietary supplements, particularly if you are taking any prescriptions.
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Written By: Updated: June 22,2010